High-Fiving Palm Trees

Running, and other aspect of my life.

Buster Ivory and The Cyprus 3 on Tour 2014 (part 3)

Well if you’ve stuck with this so far, you may as well see if through to the end.

I’m really sorry it’s taken so long for me to write this last part of the story.

Busy busy busy

On the third day of our journey we headed South for our final night’s stay in France before doing the last day’s drive down through Spain.

There aren’t many places that we like to stay near the Spanish/French border, and so I’d tried to book a hotel that we’ve used several times, but I have a horrible feeling that they might have closed down as although their website is running I couldn’t make a reservation or phone them. If anyone knows what’s happened at La Terrasse au Soleil in Ceret I’d love to know.

So unable to use that one, I booked somewhere that we have not stayed before. Namely, the Chateau de Riell, in Molitg-les-Bains, near Perpignan.

The main part of our drive was great, no traffic, blue skies, the warm weather was getting nearer, then we left the motorway to go to the hotel.

I was driving.

We seemed to be running parallel with, and very close to the Pyrenees, but we were going up a mountain as well. The road became smaller and twistier, then smaller and twistier still. Our car is big and the drop off the side of the mountain was a long way down.

Although there wasn’t much other traffic, what there was was clearly being driven by raving lunatics with wings who had parachutes attached to their cars because they had no fear of going over the edge and wedged themselves up the exhaust of our car until they had a whisker of a chance to overtake which they did practically with 2 wheels in thin air then disappeared round the next bend in a cloud of dust with no thought about what traffic might be oncoming.

Each bend we turned we expected to see a scene of mutilation and horror, tiny cars embedded into the front of big lorries, body parts everywhere, but not one accident did we encounter.

All of a sudden, we rounded a bend, and were confronted by this astonishing sight.

Grand Hotel, Moltig les Bains

The Grand Hotel – Moltig les Bains

A beautiful, traditional hotel, with a swimming pool, set in a bustling little village. How did it all get here?? Up that twisty road? It just didn’t seem possible.

This wasn’t our hotel though, we still had a couple of miles to go, and at this point we turned off the small twisty road onto a tiny twisty lane, round and round, and up and up we went through a forest, then we saw the hotel sign at last!

Driving into the car park I was a bit disappointed with the sight, the hotel seemed drab and functional and not really worth that torturous drive. As I got out, another car pulled in driven by an wizened old man with his wife as passenger. Mike waited with the car while I nipped in to check that we’d parked in the right place.

Thank Goodness! We hadn’t!!

It was an old people’s home. In the name of sanity who put that there?  Very old people have to drive their cars up and down that ghastly road to get to it. There’s probably a vacancy every week when one of them just goes over the cliff.

Our place was just “next door”  ie a few more twists and turns, but it was beautiful.


Chateau de Riell

Chateau de Riell


It’s a baroque folly-style castle. Very ancient, and surrounded by a forest. Truly enchanting.

The lady who owns it has transformed it into something totally mad.

We had a garden cottage which had a little garden that went out to the swimming pool area. The interior of the room itself looked like a cross between somewhere a Hobbit might live and an iced cake.

This isn’t our actual room but it gives you an idea of the plastering


A room at the Chateau de Riell

A room at the Chateau de Riell


The plasterer who had been given the job of doing the room, and as we later discovered the rest of the castle as well, must have used all the plaster in France and Spain combined, whilst demented on drugs.

I loved it, it was full of quirky objets the hotel’s logo was an owl and so there were owls everywhere, paintings, ceramics, stuffed, embroidered, and metal. Also lots of other items of bric a brac that in most places would have looked really tacky, but in this fairytale setting just looked perfect.

We were greeted by Michel, who was “The Man”. Traditionally dressed in hotel striped trousers, white shirt and a brocade waistcoat with matching bow tie, he unloaded our car and took the bags to the room, he was the bar man and he made a mean Gin & Tonic, he served breakfasts, he appeared everywhere he was needed like a magic pixie. He loved the dogs and insisted on taking photos of us in the bar with them.

The drinks are on me!!!

The drinks are on me!!!

In the 'Out of Africa' Bar

In the ‘Out of Africa’ Bar




















After we’d had his excellent G&Ts we put the dogs back in the room, gave them their dinner and and went for our own dinner in their beautiful restaurant.

Something we’ve often said in places we’ve stayed in France is that if their restaurant was in the middle of London it’d be a sensation with Michelin stars galore and celebrities booking 6 months in advance, and this place is one of those. The food was absolutely fabulous. Presented beautifully, cooked au point, and mouth-wateringly tasty.

While we were eating the owner of the hotel, Biche Barthélémy came round the tables to chat to everyone.


My pud!

My pud!

Back to the room, quick wee walk for dogs then a good night’s sleep.

In the morning we had breakfast in The Russian Datcha! Yes really. Which is built out over the ramparts and hangs over the forest. Looking out you truly expect to see a princess with long blonde hair pining for her handsome prince, with trolls on guard below.


View from window of the Russian Datcha

View from window of the Russian Datcha


We took the dogs for a walk, on leads because they also have a multitude of cats around the place and if our lot went chasing into the woods after the cats…..well 150 hectares of forest is a lot to search!

Before we left there was one thing I was determined to see, and that was the second swimming pool….. on the castle roof!

Mike was too keen on getting the car packed up and dogs in, so once we’d brought it round to the front he got on with that and I went exploring. Up in the tiny one person lift to the top of the tower then outside to the breathtaking roof terrace with yes indeed, a swimming pool.


Swimming pool on roof of castle

Swimming pool on roof of castle

Swimming pool on roof.

Swimming pool on roof.

Mount Canigou

Mount Canigou




















The views were impressive, dominated by Mount Canigou which has snow on it all year round and contrasted beautifully with the blue sky and swimming pool.

It was at this point that I realised that I had the car keys in my hand. Oooh, I bet Mike was swearing. I leaned over the edge of the ramparts, and far far below I could see the little matchstick figure of my husband, with blue steam coming out of his ears. “Coooooeeeeeeeeee!” I yelled, He looked all around him, “Hellllooooooo” I warbled. Eventually he looked up. A reedy little voice reached my ears that seemed to be saying something like “Get down here – NOW – Jump!” Surely not??

Tiny husband!

Tiny husband!

I decided not to wait for the lift, but to go down the stairs. Even the staircase was spectacular. Carpeted in bonkers Zebra print carpet with a Brass handrail going round and round all the way down.



All the way down from the top of the tower

All the way down from the top of the tower













Forgetting the hurry I was supposed to be in, I stopped off on one of the darkened landings for a nose, then wished I hadn’t as I was greeted by this picture of a creepy little girl on a swing.

Creepy Little Girl on Swing

Creepy Little Girl on Swing


Spooked I ran at top speed down the rest of the staircase, then became distracted again by the lounges full of bric a brac, but everso tastefully done and so pretty.

I was jolted out of my musings by the appearance of my – now much larger than life – husband who was a little bit furious about the car keys.

Saying profuse goodbyes to Michel I was bundled into the car and we set off on the twisty turny road back down the mountain.

Because I was forced to leave in a hurry I did not find their Thermal Spa which is somewhere about the place.  Moltig les Bains is apparently famous for its hot springs, hence the Grand Hotel which is a Spa Centre as well.

Thankfully the rest of the journey was uneventful, apart from each rest stop we took for the dogs where everyone stared at them and talked about them or to them (we were invisible).  At one place we were sitting with a coffee, the dogs had plenty of water to drink in the car, and a coach driver kindly came over with a bowl of water for them, which they proceeded to ignore, Embarassing!

They have coffee, but we have none, won't someone take pity on us???

They have coffee, but we have none, won’t someone take pity on us???

We arrived at home in Spain at about 7.00 p.m. Opened the car door for the dogs to get out which they did, and then, having been in the car for more or less 9 hours with short walk breaks, they looked all round…… and got back into the car where they sat looking expectantly at us as if to ask, “Well we’d better be off again hadn’t we?”

Leaving them to figure things out, we unloaded the roof box and put things away. Mike got the cushions out for the patio chairs, I fed the dogs and we finally relaxed with our G&Ts in the lovely warm Spanish night air.

After a good night’s sleep we discovered that it is never a good idea to leave a house to it’s own devices for 6 months because it bites you.

Although the lovely Sharon had been in to flush loos and water plants, the house had clearly felt rejected and gone into sulk mode.

List of things that had gone wrong.

1)    Waste disposal had seized up and needed replacing.

2)    Dishwasher had developed a leak and needed replacing

3)    My Spanish car was dead, and the battery would not hold a charge even after being jump-started , new battery required.

4)    Automatic watering system in the garden had died, yes, it needed replacing.

5)    Most of plastic garden furniture had degraded in the sun and …………..

In a way this was all good because Mike hates being idle, so it gave him lots of things to do, and he got the whole lot sorted in a week.   We’ve also got in a load more plants and pots and extended the watering system to cover them, so it all looks very pretty here at Villa Marfil.

Plants and Toby's paddling pool.

Plants and Toby’s paddling pool.

Front of house

Front of house




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Buster Ivory and The Cyprus 3 on Tour 2014 (part 2)

Having said our goodbyes, I put the next hotel, The Chateau de Maumont into the sat nav and we set off. It was just over 5 hours away which was what I’d anticipated, and with a couple of stops en route to get coffee and walk the dogs I estimated that we’d arrive at 17.00.

At 17.00 we drove up to the chateau! Perfect! Nice and early, time for a G&T, walk the dogs in the grounds and then dinner.

“Sorry, we do not have a reservation in your name. We also do not take dogs”

Not words we wanted to hear.

“I have the reservation on my laptop, I said we had 4 dogs and you said that was OK!”

They double checked but had nothing for us. I went back to the car to get the laptop to show them the confirmation. Searched for Chateau de Maumont and found…nothing!

I refined the search to ‘Chateau’. Bingo! There was my confirmation from the Chateau de Maulmont

Anybody see something different there? Just a little thing???

An ‘l’. But a fairly important ‘l’.

I apologised for the mix up, (I didn’t like it there anyway) and while Mike gave the dogs a bit of a walk I reprogrammed the sat nav.

Swear Words, many swear words, really bad ones!

The Chateau de Maulmont was 235miles, or in practical terms 4 HOURS DRIVE AWAY!

I cannot begin to adequately describe how furious I was, with myself. I hate being wrong, and in this instance there was only one person to blame, and that was ME!

We’d given our credit card for the reservation so if we cancelled that late we’d still have paid for the night’s accommodation, and so we decided to set off for the correct Chateau.

I drove! I was going to fix this. There’s no way I was letting this situation get any further out of my control

I drove in silence.  Seething, berating myself and being absolutely livid, inside my head.

I have to say that Mike was a complete gentleman. He didn’t tell me off, or get furious himself. He just said, “It doesn’t matter if we get there a bit late, I’ll ring ahead and tell them, and ask them to make up a cold meal and a bottle of wine for us to have in our room when we get there.” Why hadn’t I though of that?!

It took about 2 hours of driving before I felt calm enough to make light of the whole thing.

We were heading for the Auvergne. This is a region in Central France which used to be volcanic.

There are volcanoes everywhere if you know what you’re looking at. They actually look like very green hills, although there are one or two which do really look like the sort of volcano a child would draw.

There’s even a volcano theme park, Vulcania! www.vulcania.com/en

As I drove up and down lots of hills, I thought that the car was struggling a bit. I put it down to the load; this trip was the first journey we’d made with the roofbox so we were getting used to the drag and I just thought that was making a difference.   Going uphill it did seem to lose quite a lot of power, but I decided to ignore that and stop worrying. I was going to get us to the correct chateau if it killed me!!

I finally admitted defeat after 3 hours when we stopped to let the dogs have a walk and I let Mike do the last hour of the drive.

I sat back and checked my emails, and received an absolutely extraordinary piece of news, so extraordinary in fact that I’m keeping it to myself at the moment until I’ve decided what to do about it.

All I’ll say is that it’s about running.

It was getting dark and we were about 40 miles from our destination when 4 warning lights on the dashboard came on simultaneously.

One was the general engine light which could have meant anything, one was something to do with anti-slip, and the other two didn’t feature in the manual at all.

We decided not to stop in case we couldn’t start again, so as Mike drove on I Googled the other lights. It transpired that the particular combination of 4 lights that we had triggered could basically mean anything from “Stop the car immediately, get out and stand at a safe distance while calling the fire-brigade”, to “Ignore it all, it’s a meaningless error message which even Toyota do not understand.”

We soldiered on, we were about 29 miles away by now. The tension in the car was, let’s just say, high.

Watching the miles count down, I thought “Only 5 miles away, we can walk it from here if we have to.” Then I thought, “No we bloody well can’t, in the pitch darkness, with 4 mad dogs. We don’t even know the way. The only way we can get there is with the SatNav guiding us.”

I briefly fantasisted about harnessing the dogs to the front of the car, sitting up on the roof-box, and riding it chariot-style to our destination with the SatNav issuing its orders from below.

Even one mile away was a great distance under the circumstances and so I was greatly relieved when we “reached our destination” at about 10.00 p.m.

Driving up to the Chateau, I was so disappointed that it wasn’t daylight. The place looked amazing.

We parked out front and went in to announce ourselves. The owner is actually English, his wife Scandinavian, but brought up in England. He couldn’t have been more welcoming. Our first priority was to get the dogs out of the car, let them stretch their legs and get them into the room.

It was pretty chaotic. They were v excited to be on the move and to see where they were. We’d been upgraded to a courtyard suite, which was fab. We had to go through the reception area out the other side to the courtyard of the hotel, where the remains of the original building that was a 13th Century Knights Templar stronghold, were preserved.

Our room must have been the original kitchen as it had a huge fireplace with a roasting spit large enough for an ox, and a big brick bread oven.


Shutting me and the dogs in the room, Mike and Ian, the owner went to get our luggage. After they’d returned, I realised that they’d left a few things in the car, so I told Mike I’d go and get them.

He said we’d all go and that Buster, Toby and Molly didn’t need leads. Well this might have worked had we not encountered a family with children just as we reached reception.

Four Fluffy white dogs and two children in the dark make for quite a lot of chaos. Dogs everywhere, children everywhere. French people talking at us about the dogs. “Ooh les mignons, les mignons. Je les adore.”   “Je suis en amor.”   Etc etc.

Rather than disrupt the whole place I suggested to Mike that he go back to the room with the dogs and let me sort out what I wanted from the car on my own.

At this point things took yet another turn for the worse.

Mike took Bella’s’ lead and half turned to go back to the room. He had not noticed that he was at the top of 4 stone steps that lead down into the courtyard and so he failed to step down them, instead taking the faster option of falling.

British Army training being what it is, and once learned never forgotten, he twisted in mid-air like a dropped cat, and attempted a Commando-style shoulder-roll to standing.

Attempted but not achieved, and as he landed on his nose on the flagstones I was surprised how many thoughts flashed through my mind in a mere millisecond.

I am ashamed to admit that one of the first was “What the hell am I going to do, in the centre of France, with a broken-down car, 4 dogs and the mangled corpse of my husband?”

That was immediately followed by “I wonder, if I get him vacuumed-packed, will I be able to fit him in the roof-box?”

Happily these thoughts were banished by the voluble swearing rising from the courtyard, and as the French family went very quiet and rapidly dissolved into the darkness, I stepped down, grabbed Bella’s lead, and picked up Mike’s glasses, while he picked himself up and checked for breakages, blood pouring from his nose.

Anyone who takes Warfarin will know the dramatic effect it can add to even the most minor of injuries and as the blood gushed, it was difficult to see exactly what he had done. Fortunately once we’d overcome the bleeding with a lot of tissues, we could see that in fact he’d just grazed his nose. I’m not saying that was a minor injury, it looked like he’d rubbed it on a nutmeg grater, but it wasn’t broken and neither was anything else.   Over the next few days various aches and pains came out but nothing serious.

By the time I returned to the room our meal had arrived and it was perfect; cheese, French bread, smoked salmon, salad, pate, sausage, wine, and petits fours.

Dogs fed, us fed, time for bed!

In the morning we got to see the place in daylight and it really was quite spectacular. Mike took the dogs out for a walk and found 3 large Carp lakes from another of the chateau’s previous lives, as a Royal Hunting Lodge, although now apparently they only hold Catfish.


Door to our room


Carp Lake


We had a lovely breakfast in the Great Hall, which had wood panelling and a vaulted ceiling, then rather regretfully packed up and headed for the local Toyota Dealership which Ian had phoned and warned of our arrival.

While we were checking out, I told Maartje, Ian’s wife about what had happened the previous evening with the Chateau Maumont/Maulmont mix-up. She was absolutely astounded as she had no idea that there was another place with such a similar name. At least she knows now that if someone turns up who thinks they’ve booked but haven’t, they should probably be 4 hours away the other side of Limoges.


Chateau de Maulmont, in the Auvergne,
NOT the Chateau de Maumont in Poitou Charentes


Driving into Vichy, we located the Toyota dealership who were as helpful as can be, and even found the warranty details on their system.  They took the car away for about an hour and it came back fixed!  We and dogs sat in the showroom, putting potential Toyota buyers off as every time someone strolled past lost in a world of paint colours and optional extras, Miss Molly suddenly barked at the top of her voice sending the pauvre French person two feet off the ground, and running for the door.


Waiting at the Toyota Dealership for the car to be fixed.


On leaving the dealership, I VERY CAREFULLY loaded our next destination.  Again approximately 5 hours driving time away…..or was it???

To be continued in Part 3…


Buster Ivory and The Cyprus 3 On Tour 2014


On Monday morning last, we were due to leave home for our journey through France to Spain. Accommodation was all booked, everything organised, the only thing we were worried about was how well The Cyprus 3 would behave on the trip.

They proved to be the least of our problems!

We had planned to leave at 10.00 a.m. We got away only 45 mins late due to certain issues with the amount of stuff I was trying to load into the new 510litre roof box which we had purchased in order that the dogs could have the whole interior of the car.

Who new that 510litres was so small?

Thanks to the miracle that is vacuum packing bags we managed to condense the, possibly, 1000 litres of items I was loading into half the space. Believe the adverts, these things are miraculous http://www.lakeland.co.uk/p24142/Lakeland-Vacuum-Totes

We then had a little issue with locking the thing. Resolved on the phone by the very nice people at The Roofbox Company .

Bad language, and tempers forgotten (sort of)  we were off!


Until about 5 miles before The Dartford Crossing when the M25 ground to a crawl and remained that way for 45 mins until we got to the toll.

Back on it!! Arrived at the Eurotunnel at about 2.10 bought ticket but they couldn’t get us on a train until 3.20. No probs. Had a coffee walked the dogs queued for the train.

Excellent!! 4th vehicle loaded after 3 coaches which meant 4th off at the other end.

En France, the doors opened the coaches drove off, except for the coach in front of us………. which broke down or, tombé en panne!!

Zut Alors!!

Loaded in a metal cylinder, daylight only one vehicle away, it is very frustrating when that vehicle is a 49-seater coach with a seized gear-box.

Lady Luck smiled upon us all at that point, they were on the final attempt at resetting the gear-box prior to calling a tow truck when, hoorah, it worked!

I could feel the cumulative sigh of relief from the entire trainload of cars, coaches, vans, trucks and all their passengers rushing up the carriages behind us, and with that garlicky wind in our sails we launched ourselves onto the French motorway system.

I LOVE French motorways, they’re empty of traffic, they’re well maintained, lots of rest stops and service stations, I could drive for days on them. Lucky, as that’s just what we were going to be doing.

Our stop the first night was booked for Le Manoir des Impressionistes in Honfleur.

We’ve stayed there several times before. It’s run by a lovely if slightly dotty English lady named Brigit who we love dearly, and her sons who are half French. Her husband died suddenly and unexpectedly a few years ago.

My plan for the journey was that Buster would sleep in the room with us as usual, and Toby, Molly and Bella would sleep in the car.

I’d prebooked a room on the ground floor so we could park the car outside the window and we’d hear if The Cyprus 3 started to create a noise, but Brigit insisted that the “doggies” could all sleep in the room with us and we were to treat the place as if it were our own home.

The Doggies liked that idea and although they’d only just been allowed upstairs at home for the previous 2 weeks they romped into the room and onto the bed and assumed positions of leisure that made me think I’d probably get a better night’s sleep if I curled up in the back of the car.

I’d come with a contingency plan just in case we had to bring the dogs into the bedroom, and brought a large white sheet with me to put over the bed and the lovely bedcovers that the French usually provide, thereby at least mitigating some of the decoration by mud that they seem to carry with them wherever they go. Removing dogs, I rapidly covered up the white bedcover before it was too late.

Leaving them in the room while we went for dinner was a complete write-off as they just scratched at the door so we put them back in the car while we had a peaceful meal and a bottle of wine.

We all slept well, Mike took them out for a quick walk in the morning, everyone was off the lead except for Bella, he put them back in the car while we had breakfast, then we took them to the beach! So far as we know, The Cyprus 3 hadn’t seen a beach before.



Bella, Molly, Toby on the beach at Honfleur


Toby, Molly, Bella on the beach at Honfleur


Oh they loved it! Bella had to remain on the extending lead as, even though there are not usually sheep on a beach, she didn’t know that and there was no telling whether she might just charge off into the distance looking for some.

The absolute joyous time they were having brought tears to my eyes. Buster was thundering about like a puppy, Toby found the wettest part of the sand so he could get it all over himself, Miss Moll just waddled along by our sides and Bella hurtled too and fro on her lead. Then they saw the sea!

Glee abounded. It was a bit scary and had to be barked at, but it was also quite a lot of fun especially for Toby who just loves to get wet.





Buster on the beach at Honfleur


The tide was coming in so we couldn’t linger too long.  Back at the hotel, Brigit was dying to show me the new Spa Centre they’ve just finished.  It’s been put into a very old building at the bottom of the garden. which was derelict last time we were there.  They’ve made a lovely job of it and next time we stay I’m going to try to make time to have  a treatment down there.

We said our goodbyes, loaded dogs into the car, luggage onto the top, and we were off.

I put our next destination into the SatNav.  5 driving hours to our next destination…….or was it??

Continued in part 2….